The Particulate Dynamics research group is part of the division Mechatronics, Biostatistics and Sensors at the department of Biosystems Engineering, KU Leuven. We are interested in how complex biological structures such as cells and tissues may emerge from simple interactions between their underlying components. For this, we study the organization dynamics and mechanical properties of cells and cell communities using a combination of mechanical measurements and particle-based computational models. These quantitative models are used to improve our understanding in applications such as the treatment of antibiotic resistance in bacterial biofilms and the production of micro-tissues for bone tissue engineering. The Particulate Dynamics group closely collaborates with the Prometheus division, an interdisciplinary team of engineers and biomedical researchers that develops novel techniques for Bone Tissue Engineering.
New tissue engineering strategies rely on the use of small 'microtissues, small semi-autonomous and self-organized cellular assemblies. Acting as small building blocks, larger artificial tissues can be created by combining these micro-tissues using techniques such as bioprinting. The predictable and modular behavior of these micro-tissues render them practicable for application in engineering purposes. However, in order to incorporate micro-tissues in a translational engineering strategy, we need to have adequate ‘living material models’ that take into account the active properties of the underlying cells as they undergo differentiation. The main goal of this project is to develop a practical framework for the mechanical characterization of micro-tissues used for artificial tissue production, an emerging paradigm in the field of tissue engineering.
The applicant will make use of Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM), a high resolution technique that measures local mechanical forces from the deflection of a cantilever. You will perform AFM measurements on micro-tissues from adult progenitors (hPDCs and iPS) at different stages of chondrogenic differentiation. From AFM measurements, you will obtain the apparent visco-elastic properties of the multicellular material, as it changes during development. By comparing these results to computer simulations, you will help reveal the cell-scale properties that are associated with the biological outcome of the engineered tissue.
Moreover, the applicant will quantify the interaction forces between micro-tissues and their environment. For this, you will make use of Traction Force Microscopy (TFM). In TFM, forces between the micro-tissue and the environment are reconstructed based on the displacement of fluorescent beads embedded in the substrate. Based on these AFM and TFM characterizations, you will be able to tune the biomaterials and the parameters of the production process in order to accommodate robust and viable engineered tissues.
You have a Master's degree in Mechanical Engineering, Bioscience Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, (Bio)physics, or equivalent qualifications. You are eager to familiarize yourself with state-of-the-art mechanical characterization techniques such as Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Traction Force Microscopy (TFM). You are interested in the application of engineering techniques in to help bring forward new generation of regenerative medicine technology.
A research position of 4 years, pending a positive evaluation after one year. You will enroll in the doctoral programme of the Arenberg Doctoral School (ADS) of KU Leuven.